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I need to be careful with this question, to avoid it becoming too opinion-based:

Given that Eo has origins in Indo-European languages, with both grammatical constructs and vocabulary, it seems to me that it's easy to learn for people with a Western background. With basic competency in German, English, French, and Latin, I can guess the meaning of many words I have not encountered before. And the grammatical structure is also familiar.

How does this work for people with a non-Western background? Do native speakers of Chinese or Korean (or any other non-Western language) find it harder to learn Esperanto? Is the grammatical structure/morphology a problem?

I would be interested what aspects of Eo are hard/easy for such speakers.

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  • It's used by the Oomoto faith in Japan, and they revere Zamenhof as a god, so it can't be too difficult... Aug 24, 2016 at 9:21
  • Does this question also apply to Slavic languages? I'm a native Bulgarian speaker, and had I not known (very well) English and a bit of Spanish, I would have had a big problem with the vocabulary of Esperanto. Aug 24, 2016 at 10:00
  • @LyubomirVasilev In principle it applies to any language that is reasonably distinct from Eo. I thought it did contain some Slavic roots, due to Zamenhof's familiarity with Slavic languages. Aug 24, 2016 at 10:28
  • @OliverMason It does contain some Slavic roots but they are very few, I think. Aug 24, 2016 at 10:30

2 Answers 2

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Talking of Japanese, this is what it has in common with Esperanto:

  • The basic number system is fairly similar
    十二 (dekdu)
    二十 (dudek)

  • Some demonstrative pronouns have a similar logic
    ここ (ĉi tie)
    そこ (tie)
    どこ (kie)
    こんな (ĉi tia)
    そんな (tia)
    どんな (kia)

  • Esperanto has prefixes and suffixes that correspond to the Japanese ones

Japanese people could have "problems" with the fact root words are taken from Latin or European languages, but deriving words from root works (or understand them) is easier for them. For me, for example, it was not easy to understand the logic behind a word like malsanulejo.
They also need to adapt to the word order, which is SOV in Japanese and (generally) SVO in Esperanto, although an Esperanto sentence is still understandable even when written as SOV (e.g. Mi vin amas).

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  • 4
    Not only is SOV understandable, it's also correct (though less common)
    – Max
    Aug 24, 2016 at 10:38
  • 1
    That is correct; usually, the order is SOV, but since there is an accusative postfix, and verbs have their own postfixes, the order could also be VOS, or VSO (e.g. Amas vin mi or Amas mi vin).
    – apaderno
    Aug 24, 2016 at 10:46
  • 5
    As you mention, the word order is free, and I believe the "assumption" that SVO is the preferred order is only an assumption. In fact, your example of „Mi vin amas“ is exactly how Romance languages (Spanish, French) and Slavic (Russian, Bulgarian) work, so native speakers of those langauges are likely to use this construction. Aug 24, 2016 at 10:59
  • In my previous comment, I meant usually, the order is SVO (in Esperanto).
    – apaderno
    Nov 7, 2022 at 9:04
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I am a native speaker of an European language which is not an Indo-European one (Finnish). Had I not learnt in school English, German and Swedish, which all are Germanic languages, I would have had hard time learning Esperanto.

Coming from a non-Indo-European language most of the roots would have been Hebrew for me without prior exposure to those Germanic languages, especially English with its Romance-influenced vocabulary.

I have taken two courses of Esperanto with a foreign teacher (foreign in the sense that the teacher did not speak Finnish). Especially the first one made false assumptions that accusative and vowels ,especially diphthongs, would be hard. They are not: both are piece of cake for native Finnish speakers (c. 15 grammatical cases and 8 vowels with 46 vowel combinations).

Finnish has no articles, so the definite article is pretty much meaningless. And for the record, the rules in Esperanto are all but consistent (and English is even more incoherent in that regard).

Finnish has only a few prepositions, you can count them with the fingers of one hand (there are more postpositions but mostly grammatical cases are used instead), so without prior knowledge of prepositions in other languages the learning curve would have been even steeper. What still causes me problems is the fact that the prepositional expressions seem to get associated with the closest noun instead of the logical one (from my perspective). Let me illustrate with an example. Mi aĉetas en la vendejo means that I am in the store doing the buying, but since there is no indication that I leave the store, this creates a funny mental image where I keep wandering and picking things from the shelves. So I would say Mi aĉetas el la vendejo, because it indicates that after buying and I will leave the store. Seen from another point of view expressions with no movement get associated with the subject and with movement to the object.

The overwhelmingly most difficult part at least for me are the buzz sounds, c, ĉ, ĝ, ĵ and z. This is because of Finnish has just one s, which is slightly more buzzing than the Esperanto s. The combination sh does not natively exist, ts only in some dialects, and z is almost always pronounced as ts. So the ĉ, ĝ and ĵ sounds do not exist and I have from time to time extremely hard time to hear the difference (e.g. aĉa vs. aĝa), meaning that I need to memorise words with them by heart and, if I only hear them, infer from the context what is meant, making Esperanto all but as easy as touted.

And one more rant, in Finnish placement of comma quite often changes the meaning of a sentence, so the liberal comma rules of Esperanto are puzzling. Using the Finnish rules, Mi vidis alian, raran birdon means that only the later bird was rare vs. Mi vidis alian raran birdon where both birds were rare.

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